Capital Metro Reneges on Promise to Pursue Federal Matching Funds for Commuter Rail?

I was researching Capital Metro’s budget for this Austinist post about the oncoming threat of a bus driver strike and discovered from a Ben Wear column for the Statesman that the agency had decided not to pursue federal matching funds for commuter rail because of red tape:

The agency, looking at a long roll of federal red tape for transit grants, decided not to pursue $30 million in federal funds for the $90 million-plus rail project. And with rail supporters already talking about other, much more expensive projects, the agency’s heretofore bountiful 1 percent sales tax suddenly looks insufficient.

Compare that with this answer from an FAQ on the All Systems Go site that Cap Metro used to sell commuter rail to the public:

“Capital Metro would use existing local funds and Federal matching funds, which are expected to provide as much as 50 percent of the total cost of the project.”

According to the proposed Capital Metro 2006 budget, commuter rail expenses are going to amount to $62 million. I’m not sure what red tape was involved, but it seems like Capital Metro has reneged on a promise it made to voters and may be in financial hot water due to its decision. Now bus drivers could be bearing some of the burden of a unnecessary budget crisis. But perhaps I’m wrong on that?

Update: As Mike Dahmus points out in the comments, he’s commented extensively on Capital Metro’s commuter rail plans. Here’s his comment on this issue: “Capital Metro did not seek Federal money because they knew they’d not get much. The FTA was unlikely to rate this commuter rail plan very highly – even Cap Metro’s own figures show a very small number of people riding, because this piece-of-crap Krusee debacle doesn’t actually go anywhere people want to go, like UT, the Capitol, or Congress Avenue, and their bogus stuck-in-traffic ‘circulator’ is only going to circulate bums and other carless transit-dependent folks because of the extra time and discomfort involved in a three-seat ride.”

What this seems to mean is that Capital Metro deliberately misled voters (Mike will probably laugh at this observation because he’s been talking about this ad infinitum in his posts) to get commuter rail passed, and didn’t pursue federal money because they knew that their lie would be exposed.

Therefore, if the bus drivers go on strike, please don’t bitch. First, Capital Metro lied to the voters, and now it’s attempting to break a union. It’s an organization guilty of gross mismanagement.

10 Comments so far

  1. M1EK (unregistered) on January 24th, 2006 @ 2:31 pm

    The reason they haven’t tried to get money from the Feds is that this project would not rank very highly on the scale the FTA uses (to then decide which projects to fund). They don’t want the negative PR.

    In contrast, the 2000 light rail plan got a very high rating by the FTA, despite what you hear from local trogolodytes who insisted that nobody would ride it. We would easily have gotten the feds to chip in a large amount of money for that one.

  2. M1EK (unregistered) on January 24th, 2006 @ 2:34 pm

    And once again, any thread which talks at this length about Cap Metro’s commuter rail plan which doesn’t link to at least one of my articles makes Baby Jebus cry.

  3. ttrentham (unregistered) on January 24th, 2006 @ 3:43 pm

    I don’t know about the Baby Jebus, M1EK, but you’re sure doing a lot of crying about it. Perhaps we all just take it for granted that most web-savvy Austinites have found themselves sampling your bile at some time or another. :)

  4. M1EK (unregistered) on January 24th, 2006 @ 3:48 pm

    I’m partly in jest, but seriously, part of the way that I know that all this writing isn’t just pissing in the wind is when people use it as a resource. One of the few times you can ever know that is when an article like this pops up.

  5. M1EK (unregistered) on January 24th, 2006 @ 3:54 pm

    Thanks for the updated footer. I don’t know if I’d go quite that far, amazingly enough — I think that they bent the truth about as far as it would bend during pre-election time, and relied heavily on the naive suckers in the Austin pro-transit contingent to carry the rest of their water. As far as I can tell, nobody ever _promised_ they’d seek Federal money in a way which would hold up in court, for instance; they just heavily implied it.

    Anyways, the scandal to me isn’t that they aren’t pursuing federal dollars now – it’s that our local media doesn’t seem to want to know why and just credulously reprint Capital Metro’s PR. If you do your job and read their EIS (Environmental Impact Study), you can see that their projected ridership is incredibly low – and that’s obviously why they’re not bothering to go to the Feds. Ben Wear in particular should be doing better.

  6. omit (unregistered) on January 24th, 2006 @ 4:15 pm

    No problem.

    Maybe it wasn’t a promise, but like you said, it was implied. To use it as a selling point and not pursue it just seems more concrete of an issue than the ridership figures.

    Wear’s been good at going after the tollers (though it seems like nobody reads his column except transportation people).

  7. M1EK (unregistered) on January 25th, 2006 @ 7:31 am

    Ironically, I think that these toll roads are a good idea although I’d be happier if they changed the tolls by time-of-day.

  8. Harley (unregistered) on February 2nd, 2006 @ 2:31 pm

    The main reasons the 2000 plan was voted down was an enormous (and unstable) price tag, an insufficient plan for execution, and the fact that there was insufficient compensation for local businesses (specifically the ones on South Congress) that were going to be blocked or otherwise adversely affected during the construction phase. There was also no mention of rent control along the route or many other details. That was what left most Austinites cold, not some silly notion that nobody would ride.

    Austin is one of the most environmentally conscious cities in the nation. I have a really hard time believing people would shy away from a transporation solution that takes cars off the road, uses less fossile fuel, and avoids traffic. Sorry, but that just screams “Austin Lifestyle.”

    If you’re going to call people “trogolodytes,” be sure you know what you’re talking about.

  9. M1EK (unregistered) on February 2nd, 2006 @ 4:26 pm


    Despite having George W. Bush on the ballot, and being hamstrung by Mike Krusee, who forced them to hold the election in November 2000 even though they had been preparing for May 2001 (and thus, as many noted, hadn’t quite settled on the exact route), the light rail plan passed in the city limits of Austin, and lost by the slimmest of margins overall.

    Compared to other light rail success stories like Dallas and Portland, this was a BETTER first attempt than would otherwise be expected.

    And yes, those trogolodytes claimed nobody would ride that line too. The South Congress businesses, and especially Max Nofziger, were “useful idiots” for Skaggs and Daugherty.

  10. M1EK (unregistered) on February 2nd, 2006 @ 4:29 pm

    Oh, and Harley, if we’re establishing who does and doesn’t know enough to talk about this issue, I was serving on the UTC at the time, and getting briefed regularly by Capital Metro. Krusee forced them to go way too early before the voters, probably because he was smart enough to know that a “fully baked plan” would have PASSED, and cut down on the 1/4 cent rebate his far-north-Austin constituents needed for road-widening. Check my blog for more, especially this category. Read it bottom-up if you want it chronologically.

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